Σάββατο, Φεβρουαρίου 19, 2005

Perspective

I've been meaning to blog on this forever, and today it finally seems appropriate. A few weeks ago, January 26, was the "deadliest day" in Iraq since the beginning of the war. The fascinating thing was the article that came out the next day in Metro (that's the free paper you get as you get on/off the subway. Or AM New York, but it's more biased). It had a little info box in the middle of an otherwise predictable story that said this:
Deadly Incidents
  • November 2004: 17 killed when two blackhawk helicopters crash

  • March 23, 2003: 28 troops are killed on invasion's third day

  • April 1989: 47 troops are killed when gun turret on USS Iowa explodes.
  • One of these things is not like the other.

    It struck me as very odd for Metro to decide to leave the current war for perspective on casualties and end up on the USS Iowa, as tragic as that incident was, for a number of reasons.
    1) The USS Iowa explosion was not a wartime incident. It took place during a training exercise in the Caribbean.

    2) It isn't a battle related to the current conflict -- high-casualty incidents with some bearing on the Iraq war include:
  • October 12, 2000: 17 killed when the USS Cole is attacked by Islamofascist suicide bombers while docked in Yemen


  • Or, if we're willing to count civilians killed in the war's instigating incident:
  • September 11, 2001: 2819 killed by Islamofascist suicide bombers while on commercial airliners or while at work in the World Trade Center or Pentagon.

  • Or if we're delving back into the 80's:
  • October 23, 1983: 220 Marines and 21 other US servicemen killed when Islamofascist terrorists detonate a truck bomb outside their barracks.

    Or, if we're interested in the actual deadliest days in US military history:
  • July 1-3, 1863: 8520 Union and 7850-9750 Confederate soldiers either died or were MIA at Gettysburg. Another 27,330 were wounded.

    Or, more recently and against a foreign enemy:
  • February 19, 1945: In the first 18 hours of the Battle of Iwo Jima, 2300 Marines were killed or wounded. The entire battle lasted for nearly a month and cost 26,000 lives.
    Today is the 60th anniversary of that battle.
  • May every one of these men and women be remembered, and may we be worthy of their sacrifice.

    Parade

    Last night, we went to see Parade (the Jason Robert Brown version, not the Jerry Herman, obviously) at Steinhardt. And it was good. It wasn't GREAT, at least as a performance/production (then again, I'd seen it at Michigan, which is basically the best musical theatre department in the country, and Jay had seen it at Lincoln Center, so we had pretty high standards to compare it to) but it totally worked. Primarily, because it's SO good. It's not a happy show, by any stretch of imagination, but it's magnificent.

    --< NOTE: SPOILERS TO FOLLOW, BUT READING THEM WILL NOT RUIN THE SHOW FOR YOU, I PROMISE >--
    Parade is the story of a Brooklyn Jew named Leo Frank, living in Atlanta in 1915, working as a superintenent at National Pencil Company, and in a loveless/sexless marriage to a Southern Jewish woman named Lucille. On the day of the Confederate Memorial Day Parade, Leo is working, and a 13 year old girl named Mary Phagan goes up to his office to collect her pay. That night, the night watchman, Newt Lee, finds her body in the basement, and the cops take Leo into custody. They have an unspeakably moving funeral -- it's so moving that they had to cut parts of it for the tour because it was too intense. It's amazing. Anyway, moving on ... For various reasons, the prosecutor decideds to frame Leo, and coaches all of the witnesses on what to say. It's a huge media spectacle, and the newspaper reporter is a force to be reckoned with. They try Leo, who incidentally has an incompetent, good-ol'-boy lawyer, and, unsurprisingly, convict him and sentance him to death. That's Act I. Act II is Lucille pulling out all of the stops to get Leo released, including going to the governor, forcing him to reopen Leo's case, and accompanying him to extract the truth from the witnesses. Throughout this, Leo and Lucille are falling in love with each other. Finally, the governor commutes Leo's sentance and moves him to another prison until they can get him freed entirely. Lucille goes to visit him, bribes the guard, and she and Leo eat a picnic dinner at the jail, the first time they've eaten together in two years, and they sing a gorgeous duet (this is, incidentally, the point at which I start crying), and then they make love, presumably since their wedding night, if even then. Lucille leaves, and before Leo can even get his pants on, a lynch mob comes, drags him out of the jail, and hangs him. Then, for the finale, we see Lucille, in mourning, singing to Leo, juxtaposed against a reprise of the interaction between Leo and Mary Phagan when she came for her pay, and this is set against the Memorial Day parade. Curtain.

    It's not a happy show, but it's a good show. The incredible thing about it is that it was significantly more powerful for me the second time around, knowing every word and every note this time, because I knew what was coming. The first time I saw it, the funeral of Mary, and the finale made me cry. This time, those made me cry too, but I actually lost it (quietly -- Jay said he wouldn't sit next to me if I cried audibly) when they started "All the Wasted Time," which is the duet when Lucille and Leo are finally in love, because it was so beautiful and so happy and so about to get smashed to bits by a lynch mob. And I couldn't go for my Kleenex either, because I couldn't look away, even for a second, couldn't move to get them.

    I understand why Parade wasn't a huge Broadway hit -- it's an emotionally draining experience, it's not a happy dance-y show, it has a very large cast/pit, and you have to keep them all on Prozac because one of the side effects of being in it is depression, which, considering the emotional demands of doing it 8 times a week, is understandable.

    That said, it's one of my favorite shows, if not my favorite show, ever. I couldn't see it over and over again like you could, say, Wicked or something similarly toothless (and I'm not knocking Wicked, it's just a very different emotional experience) but it's an amazing piece. If you ever get a chance to see it (colleges love doing it -- try one of those) absolutely do. Bring kleenex. You'll need them.

    Παρασκευή, Φεβρουαρίου 18, 2005

    Yargh!

    This, folks, is my best friend. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly, depending how well you know me/us) she's the normal one in the relationship. If you ever want to know what said friendship is like, just read Agnes. I promise, it's EXACTLY right. And I have to say, it's a little disconcerting to have a number of different friends, some who've only met her briefly, ask if I've read Agnes, because it reminds them of us. Yes. We know.

    Spamalot!: The Report

    So Mel saw Spamalot, cheaply, through a method I fully intend to employ very soon. He HIGHLY recommended it -- said it was magnificient. Also, my friend Sean got to sit in on one of the rehearsals and he too said it was truly something. Mel's friend Sarah Ramirez (who was in his last Broadway show) is playing the one major female role, and apparently she's simply magnificent. Look for a Sutton v Sara v Sherie Renee deathmatch come Tony-time. Mel said that everything was great already (which is unusual in previews -- the time during which the writers/directors/etc make a last ditch effort to fix the show) and it's going to be a major, major hit. It's apparently wet-yourself-funny. Sean says it has a feel/vibe in similar to that of Meaning of Life but telling the story of King Arthur. And I am massively entertained by anything involving David Hyde Pierce. As I said, I intend to go soon. More when I know it.

    Next weekend, my parents will be in town, so I'll be going to see Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Spelling Bee with them. I haven't seen either of them in the theatre (I saw Bee in rehearsal) so that's exciting. It's also exciting because Bee is most likely going to move, which is very cool.

    Πέμπτη, Φεβρουαρίου 17, 2005

    Play It Again, Brooklyn

    This is a fascinating look at the people who see Broadway shows repeatedly. As in, the same Broadway show. And not twice. 10, 15, 100 times. And even more oddly, things like Brooklyn, which is widely rumored to be about as bad as a show could get, at least until Good Vibrations opened. (Did you SEE that Times review? Ouch!) I can't get the page to load to provide you with an excerpt, so go here to read it.

    Confessions of a New York Liberal

    This piece is 100%, absolutely dead on. Read it all.
    fter the blizzard and before the fashion shows, you may have heard, the elections in Iraq went off extremely well. Remember? Or, like most New Yorkers, perhaps you let that fact slide from your consciousness as quickly as possible . . . Hey, speaking of Fashion Week, what is it with this renaissance in corseting?

    Seriously: The success of the elections poses a major intellectual-moral-political problem for people in this city. The cognitive dissonance is palpable.

    New Yorkers think we are smarter than other Americans, that the richness and difficulty of life here give our intelligence a kind of hard-won depth and nuance and sensitivity to contradictions and ambiguity. We feel we are practically French. Most New Yorkers are also liberals. And most liberals, wherever they live, believe that they are smarter than most conservatives (particularly George W. Bush).

    And finally, most liberals and New Yorkers suspect that we may be too smart for our own good. It is a form of self-flattery as self-criticism. During these past few years, I have heard it said again and again that liberals’ ineffectiveness derives from their inability to see the world in the simple blacks and whites of the Limbaughs and Hannitys and Bushes. (Why else, the argument goes, did John Kerry lose?)

    Maybe. But now our heroic and tragic liberal-intellectual capaciousness is facing its sharpest test since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Back then, most of us were forced, against our wills, to give Ronald Reagan a large share of credit for winning the Cold War. Now the people of this Bush-hating city are being forced to grant the merest possibility that Bush, despite his annoying manner and his administration’s awful hubris and dissembling and incompetence concerning Iraq, just might—might, possibly—have been correct to invade, to occupy, and to try to enable a democratically elected government in Iraq.

    At a media-oligarchy dinner party on Fifth Avenue 72 hours after the elections, the emotions were highly mixed. The wife of a Democratic Party figure was (like me) unabashedly hopeful about what had happened in Iraq. Across the table, though, the wife of a well-known liberal actor was having none of it; instead, she complained about Fahrenheit 9/11’s being denied an Oscar nomination. And a newspaper éminence grise seemed more inclined to discuss Condoleezza Rice’s unfortunate hairstyle than the vicissitudes of Wolfowitzism. It was the night of the State of the Union speech, but as far as I know, no one (including me) ducked out of the dining room to find a TV. Who really wanted to watch Bush take his victory lap?
    And it gets even better. Go! Read!

    Sometimes, I think Google looks at me funny

    When you're a lyricist, or, I suppose, a writer of any sort, you frequently find yourself engaging in the oddest sorts of Google searches. In the past week and a half, for totally legit lyrical reasons, I have searched for, among other things:

    -- Francis Drake Armada
    -- Everclear
    -- Luxury pillows
    -- vegas suite honeymoon
    -- expensive liquor
    -- Hennessy
    -- voodoo chant
    -- Rainman suite
    -- Fon chant
    -- Bejan grammar
    -- Carrie Nation
    -- Puritan hymns
    -- Sacred Harp music
    -- magical uses of wood
    -- Holly distribution
    -- Yew distribution
    -- wiccan ritual
    -- spanish slang migrant workers

    And there are PLENTY of others. I think "Luxury pillows" is my favorite.

    Lyric of the Evening

    "We'll get it on on the kitchenette."

    I actually wrote a whole stanza that I think is sheer brilliance (so it probably won't make it into the piece) but I'm not going to post it here. Maybe later. For now, you're stuck with the fragments that I like.

    Τετάρτη, Φεβρουαρίου 16, 2005

    Fisking the Sausage

    I haven't fisked anything in a while, as you've probably noticed [What do you call what you did to 'Phantom'? -- ed. A review. Oh]. But I just got an email from James Dean, and it seems like fun, so here we go.
    Dear Katie,
    Considering that I've never heard of, let alone corresponded with you before, don't you think 'Dear' is a bit fresh? I do.
    You may have heard that my brother Howard was elected Chairman of the Democratic Party last week. Just before he took on his new role he asked me to join you as the new chair of Democracy for America.
    Oh, I just love the smell of nepotism in the evening.
    I'm not a politician. Even though my brother was a governor I wasn't politically active beyond Howard's campaigns until the 2000 elections. I was one of millions of people drawn in by the debate about the credibility of our political process and how to make it work for the people again.
    Oddly enough, the politicians elected by the majority of the people and by constitutionally stipulated political process ARE governing, so I'm not completely sure what's broken, but sure, whatever, go on.
    That's what motivates me today.
    Were this a musical, what follows would be a song. Cue music.
    What you have done so far is remarkable. In less than a year you have built a vibrant, winning organization that supports the fiscally responsible, socially progressive values that are the mainstream in America today. But we can do even more.
    And cue the irony! A vibrant, winning organization? What, exactly, did Dean win? Or his organization? I mean, he won Iow--wait, nevermind. Nothing! He won no primaries! He won no states. He won no electoral votes. He won the chairmanship of the DNC after everyone else was driven from the race. Is this the "winning" of which you speak? And then the 'fiscally responsible, socially progressive values'? First off, I'm highly skeptical that such things aren't mutually exclusive. Second, this is the man who managed to blow something to the tune of $40 million in about 3 months while winning exactly 0 primaries. That's a level of fiscal responsibility generally associated with heroin addicts, not leaders of major political parties. Moving on.

    This year you and I will work together to endorse good candidates all over the country and provide them the training, financial resources, technology know-how and volunteers they need to win.
    Ooh, endorsing good candidates! There's an idea! Betcha wish you'd thoughta that before ya nominated Lurch, doncha? One thought on 'volunteers' -- 'provided', coerced, paid, or similarly motivated volunteers, especially of the Young Lunatic variety, are nowhere near as effective as the GOP 'friends and neighbors' model. Incidentally, it's the same as evangelism -- people generally do not respond well to the guy preaching on the corner or handing out tracts in the subway, but if you're their friend and want to evangelize them, it's frequently well received. Relational evangelism, we call it. Moving on (I'm good at that, for a Republican.)
    You and I will build organizations of like-minded people working for change in your neighborhood and every other neighborhood in America.
    One, my neighborhood is just fine, thank you. And just try and change my neighborhood back in Missouri. Not only are we all conservative, some of the neighbors are heavily armed. Two, I thought you already HAD a super-wonderful-mega-special organization that was kicking butt and taking names. Oh wait... I forgot.
    Most of all, you and I will help ordinary people impact our political process.
    Once again, the ordinary people voted. Impact made. And are we talking about ordinary people like Babs, Ben Affleck, Michael Moore, etc, here? Because that seems to be your choir.

    Soon you'll be hearing from Tom Hughes, our new executive director, about some exciting things happening. We are already at work helping candidates and organizations prepare for 2005 elections -- including a referendum on campaign finance reform in Ohio and the nearly 500 races for mayor taking place in cities across America this year.

    And we will be getting into the fight to stop George Bush from dismantling Social Security.
    Does anyone besides me think it's darkly humorous to have a party dispatching mostly young people to fight against a change that would prevent them from getting screwed years from now?
    I also want to hear from you. This is your organization, not mine. And the best ideas always come from the grassroots up rather than the top down. You can contact me anytime:

    http://www.democracyforamerica.com/telljim
    Somehow, I suspect he doesn't actually want to hear from me. Or you, most likely.
    DFA has only just begun, and I can't wait to get to work with you.
    I can't wait to thwart you in whichever ways possible.
    Thanks,
    Jim
    You're welcome.

    Katie

    Sacrilege

    Who's writing a very inappropriate lyric about foreign call-girls and chocolate syrup for a church musical?

    It's me!

    Spamalot!: The Update

    Yesterday I was talking to one of my profs who was on his way, during lunch, to attempt to get a ticket to last night's performance of Spamalot. We talked about it briefly, and the conclusion we came to is that we both feel an intense NEED to see the show. One look at DHP and the Chicken of Bristol, and there is this URGENCY. Holly seems to be experiencing it too. I hope he got to see it last night -- I'll let you know what he thought.

    Δευτέρα, Φεβρουαρίου 14, 2005

    Haiku of the Day

    From Austin's Away Message:

    Quantum Mechanics Haiku

    Israeli Teacher
    Ev'ry day confusion grows
    Math with all letters


    Katie's Personal Haiku of the Day

    Amoral Fascists
    Republicans rule the world
    Thus says my teacher

    Convenient Rhymes of the Day

    Carrie Nation - Hatchetation

    Go out west - invest

    Spamalot!

    Show I want to see:

    Spamalot!


    Why:
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    David Hyde Pierce, with the Chicken of Bristol


    Need I say more?

    Okay, I will.

    From Playbill.com:
    Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce, Hank Azaria and the company of Monty Python's Spamalot plan a Valentine's Day massacre — of laughter and song — as the new musical begins on Broadway, Feb. 14.


    Mike Nichols ("The Graduate," "Angels in America") directs the musical inspired by the 1975 feature film comedy "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" which lands at Broadway's Shubert Theatre for a St. Valentine's Day (Feb. 14) start and a St. Patrick's Day (March 17) opening.

    The self-proclaimed "lovingly ripped-off" show features a book by Eric Idle, based on the screenplay he co-wrote with Monty Python creators Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Michael Palin.

    Spamalot tells the tale of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table on their quest for the Holy Grail. The show will boast "a chorus line of dancing divas and knights, flatulent Frenchmen, killer rabbits and one legless knight who create unforgettable musical production." Creator Eric Idle, in the show's announcement, promises it will be "as good as or quite likely better than any other show with killer rabbits and a legless knight opening on Broadway this season.”

    Featuring a completely new score with music and lyrics by Idle and composer John Du Prez ("A Fish Called Wanda"), Spamalot also includes songs ("Brave Sir Robin" and "Knights of the Round Table") from the original film.

    The new musical stars Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Show, "Clue") as King Arthur, David Hyde Pierce ("Frasier," The Heidi Chronicles) as Sir Robin, Hank Azaria ("The Birdcage," Sexual Perversity in Chicago) as Sir Lancelot, Christopher Seiber (Into The Woods) as Sir Galahad, Michael McGrath (Wonderful Town) as Patsy et al., Steve Rosen (The Golem) as Sir Bedevere and Sara Ramirez (A Class Act) as The Lady of the Lake.

    The Long Awaited Phantom Review

    As I said a long time ago, when I actually saw the movie, of the group with whom I saw Phantom, the Movie, half thought it was the worst movie they'd ever seen and half had seen Gigli. Just a little background on our group: there were five of us, seated in increasing order of sobriety, with a guy who was both drunk and high on the end, next to two people who were just drunk, me who was sober but sick and hopped up on cough medicine and abuterol, and a guy who was completely sober. Between my coughing and his utter clear-mindedness, it is debatable which of us suffered most. Anyway, here's why I hated it:

    First off, I was frequently confused, especially when they were in the future time. Who is he? Who is she? Why is there a monkey? Why are we in the future? Should I care about any of these people? Etc. And my confusion was certainly not limited to the flash-forwards. Was the Phantom supernatural or wasn't he? I don't care, and artful ambiguity is lovely, I'd at least like to feel like the writers know. Oh, he's a magician! That illuminates things. Are we in a world that has real magic? Because there are no other indications of this. Especially with the flashback to the backstory of the Phantom, which establishes him as an abused, ugly boy, not supernatural. And whether or not he is affects my belief of the end, of the ridiculous cemetery scene, and a number of other things.

    Like when the candles come out of the water lit. Now, I understand why that happens on stage -- because the alternative is for them to drop from the ceiling, slide out from the side, or be carried on by a guy named Vince. And they have to move on, because we're on stage, and we can't very well go to them. In the movie, however, you didn't HAVE to. They could have just been there. But no. They had to be all grand, pushing them out of the water lit. I'm sure they felt that was fancy and dramatic. It was also confusing and jarring.

    And what was with the horse? You know, the horse the Phantom had for Christine to ride down about a dozen fairly shallow stairs? Why? I mean, sure, it's grand. But once again, WHY? There are 12 stairs and she's a dancer. It's not like she needs an escalator.

    And how did Christine leave for the graveyard in one dress and arrive in another? And if you were out in the snow, would you have your cleavage out in full force? I kept waiting for a little snowdrift to collect right there, between her breasts. And speaking of snow, what season/month WAS it, at any given time, and were they going in order? Because I felt like we were jumping around. Maybe it was our repeated excursions to the future that threw me.

    Oh, and with the Phantom: If he's been down there ever since he was about 12, attended only by the mean lady, how on earth does he have an organ (even a small one), magic candles, a boat, and a peacock bed? Does he get delivery down there? Were they there for the previous Phantom? How did HE get them? And now would be a good time to say -- I'm not opposed to the fantastic in musicals. I like the fantastic. Heavens, the last scene I wrote had Jesus popping up and singing a vaudeville/honky-tonk number to Carrie Nation. Absurdity is fine. But if you're going to do absurd and you in any way allow your audience to think logically, or try and piece together the back story, you're sunk. For example -- our 10 minute musical involved a peacock, a penguin, a kiwi, a flamingo, and emu, and a wolf. Out in a forest someplace. If we'd have put it in, say, the penguin's nest, or the emu's or something, or tried to explain how the others got there, people wouldn't have bought it, but since we simply presented it as the state of our world, not explaining itself in realworld terms, it worked. It's weird how that happens. Phantom invites us to be logical by trying to explain things and simultaneously leaving enough holes that we have to try to reason things out for ourselves, leading to trouble.

    Enough with the confusion for a while. One of the biggest problems I had with the film was that it seemed like all of the departments had operated entirely independently to create the film. Especially lyrics. The lyrics seemed to be entirely at odds with the music, the action, the costumes, the sets, most of the time. Or, since the lyrics preceded most of those things, they seemed to be being actively thwarted by the rest of the movie. And this is not to say that the lyrics were excellent, because they frequently aren't, but we really all ought to be on the same page. Some examples:
    Lyric thwarted by music -- any time someone sings "Christine" because it's set "CHRIS-tine, " which is not where the emphasis falls. As we like to say, the em-PHA-sis is on the wrong syl-LA-ble. Sloppy. Also, any time anyone's singing something dramatic or angry to the tunes of "Music of the Night," "All I Ask of You," etc.

    Lyric thwarted by action -- When Christine awakes from spending the night in the Peacock Bed, she gets up, stands in the middle of the cave, candles, mist, etc, and sings "I remember mist/a cave/candles/etc." No, dear. The verb you're looking for is "I see." You see mist. If you had woken up in your bed upstairs, then you could remember mist. Not right now.

    Lyric thwarted by costumes -- The Masquerade. The lyric is,
    Masquerade!
    Every face a different shade ...
    Masquerade!
    Look around -
    there's another
    mask behind you!

    Flash of mauve ...
    Splash of puce ...
    Fool and king ...
    Ghoul and goose ...
    Green and black ...
    Queen and priest ...
    Trace of rouge ...
    Face of beast ...

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    Eye of gold ...
    Thigh of blue ...
    [...]
    Grinning yellows,
    spinning reds ...


    Okay, now, what's wrong with this picture? And while we're asking, what the hell was up with the little Martha Graham mime dance there on the stairs? But more on the choreography in a minute. Look at the picture. Yeah. With the exception of Christine, who seems to be wearing something pinkish, they're all wearing BLACK and WHITE! No mauve, no puce, no green, no rouge, no gold, no blue, no grinning yellow, no spinning red (what is it, by the way, with Tim Rice and color list songs?)

    Lyrics Thwarted by Sets -- I'm sure it happened. I think physics was at one point defied by the sets, what with the guy falling into water, and then the grate falling on him, but from a lower height, which would have necessitated him to fall through the grate to get into the water.

    Oh, and what was with the Phantom having a huge dramatic moment, almost killing Raoul, something about Christine, emotional, emotional, emotional, tense, dramatic, not completely sure what was going on but it was intense, and so then, of course, the logical next step was to go play with his monkey. Of course it was. Whatever.

    Okay, on to the choreography. In "The Point of No Return" I almost died laughing. What WAS that dance they were doing in the background. Its tempo and meter certainly didn't seem to correspond to the music. And it was goofy looking.

    And speaking of goofy-looking things in that song, what was with the Phantom ripping his mask off and having his hair change color? We've seen the masks downstairs and they don't include hairpieces. So why does he have thick, lush, dark hair with the mask on and wispy, gray hair from a receding hairline with the mask off. And also, on makeup -- the Phantom wasn't grotesque. He was moderately ugly, but I know plenty of people who are at least that ugly, and they don't go around with masks and magic candles and murderous vendettas. If his whole motivation is that he's ugly, make him UGLY. Especially if you want us to buy that an entire opera house is going to flip out when they see him unmasked. From 20 yards, this Phantom wouldn't have been noticeably disfigured. Except for the change in hair color.

    But you say, the music is pretty! Yes, yes it is. Puccini was very talented. But pretty is not an excuse to do anything. Pretty is fair if you're writing Muzak, writing Hallmark cards, or designing wallpaper. Pretty in musical theatre is only helpful if it in some way serves the story. Sometimes you write something and it's gorgeous and it just doesn't fit, or you have to make it less pretty to make it fit. Thus is the medium.

    Also, on the musical front, frequently the music didn't fit the action, and also, it was boring. I like "Music of the Night." Once. Maybe twice. But at some point, the usage of music seems to be something to the effect of "We have 2 minutes we need to sing -- quick, borrow some of that song." Which is acceptable if your show opens tomorrow and you just have to get the damn thing done. But if you're Andrew Lloyd Webber and you've had the past 20 years to do rewrites on this thing, you'd think he could have come up with a rational use of music. As it is, about 45 minute towards the end of the middle sounds like someone put just the soundtrack on shuffle.

    Also, the middle was boring. There was definitely a stretch of about an hour in the middle when I was literally wishing our theater had a chandelier that could fall on me. And every time they finished a song, I'd pray, "Please, God, not another ballad. No! Please! I thought you LOVED me!" and then they'd go right into another ballad. I don't forgive boring easily. I have enough things to do without having my time wasted by boring musical theatre.

    A few words on the acting. Christine looked like she'd either been shot up with horse tranquilizers or trained in the "Stare Blankly" school of acting. Ditto for the rest of the cast. Except for Minnie Driver, who seemed to be the only one who thought this was stupid and was actually having fun. I had fun when she was on screen.

    And finally -- If you like Phantom, good. I don't, but I'm glad you do. That, to me, means you have the general disposition to like musical theatre. And that's good. We like that. If you like Phantom, there are plenty of other things out there that you haven't even heard of yet that you're gonna LOVE, things that everything Phantom is, and so much more. Trust me.

    25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

    If you're coming to New York and looking for an evening at the theatre that is smart, hilarious, new, and has great music, have I got the show for you. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is one of the best shows I've ever seen, especially the book, which is generally what gets blamed for everything wrong with a musical. In this case, however, the book is so much of what is right about the show. Rumor, speculation, and report has it that it may be moving to Broadway at some point in the future, which is extremely exciting. The music and lyrics are by Bill Finn, who teaches in our program (and for whom writing a lyric is one of my projects of the evening -- "Write a song of victory for the end of an act") and the book is by Rachel Shenkein, who is an alum of our program. When you combine that with the fact that alums Winnie Holtzman (Wicked, book) and Mindi Dickstein (Little Women, lyrics) are already on Broadway at the moment, we're not having a bad year. Anyway, back to Spelling Bee -- I haven't seen it since it moved into the theatre, but I did see it in rehearsal, and it was wonderful even then. < Lavar Burton voice > But you don't have to take my word for it! < / Lavar Burton voice > The Times gives it a rave and a half, saying in the summary (they seem to have misplaced the full review) :
    This lovably inconsequential, entirely adorable new musical brings to the stage the culture’s current mania for celebrating that most revered of American virtues, the will to victory. A mock spelling bee, it pokes serious fun at its twitchy tween contestants in the loopy spirit of the movies "Waiting for Guffman" and "Best in Show" — but also pays affectionate tribute to these quirky young spelling titans. William Finn’s nimble, upbeat score provides the emotional underpinning for Rachel Sheinkin’s more satirical — indeed often riotously funny — book. Director James Lapine, Mr. Finn’s collaborator on "Falsettos," is also in impeccable form, managing to transform into virtues two of the theater’s most reliable pitfalls, namely audience participation and the usually ghastly conceit of adult actors playing kids.
    It is totally "Waiting for Guffman"/"Best in Show" -- both movies that are wet-yourself funny. This show is proof that a show can be smart, well-written, and still be extremely entertaining. I think a lot of people think that because I have reasonably high standards of what constitutes a "good" musical, the things I like are for some reason unentertaining. To the contrary. I spend enough time with musical theatre every day that I have very little patience for anything that's unentertaining or boring. Or dumb, for that matter. Which brings us to our next post, the long-awaited Phantom Review.

    Oh wait... yeah... Spelling Bee -- GO, GO, GO! Get tickets! See it! If someone approaches you in the lobby and asks if you can spell well, say yes! Trust me! Forego Phantom, Mamma Mia!, Beauty and the Beast, and Good Vibrations and go see it!

    On 'The Gates'

    After church yesterday, Mark, Kelly, one of their friends, and I went to see 'The Gates.' They're very...orange. From a distance, to be honest, they look like construction. Up close, as you're actually walking through them, they're lovely and much more saffron. From a distance, they're just orange. Also, when you're walking through them, you're part of an absolute mass of humanity, but that may have had something to do with us starting at the corner of 5th and 59th. I suspect farther uptown is significantly less zooy. Also a weekday might be more peaceful.

    It's Valentines Day

    To bring brownies or not to bring brownies?

    And Suddenly, There Were 'Oboist Wanted' Signs Everywhere

    As a composer, oboe is definitely one of my favorite instruments for which to write, along with cello and french horn. I mention this because:
    have all the oboes gone?

    More precisely, where have the principal oboists in the nation's leading symphony orchestras gone?

    The job - a critical one in any orchestra - is open, or about to be, at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the San Diego Symphony.

    As John Mack, the dean of American oboists, put it, "People are running around like headless chickens saying, 'Where are we going to find people?' "

    "They are the principal fiddle of the wind section," said Paavo Jarvi, the music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. "There is a musical and moral authority that comes with the position." The principal oboist is often seen as "the second concertmaster of the orchestra," he said.

    The prominence of the oboe, one of the earliest winds to join the orchestra, stems from tradition, the role of the principal player and the vividness and intensity of the instrument's sound.

    Mr. Mack recalled that when he joined the Cleveland Orchestra in 1965, its conductor, the autocratic George Szell, leaned over his music stand one day and said, "Mr. Mack, you are the leader of the woodwinds."
    This amuses me.

    Σάββατο, Φεβρουαρίου 12, 2005

    Council Results, Extended Edition

    Okay, I'm uber-delinquent on posting winners. And posting in general. I'll be better, I promise. So here they are.

    January 21

    Council:
    WMD and Death By Chocolate Cake
    Dr. Sanity

    Ted Kennedy’s Contract on Your Paycheck
    The Sundries Shack

    Disaster and the Existence of a "Just" God
    Wallo World

    Democrat for a Day
    The SmarterCop

    Non-Council:
    Welcome Neighbor!
    Varifrank

    Aiding and Abetting the Enemy
    Blackfive

    Illegal Aliens and Immigration Reform Report #4
    Diggers Realm

    There's No Need To Get Worried About Black Blog Ops
    Right Wing News

    February 4

    Council:
    Challenger - A Flight Surgeon Remembers
    Dr. Sanity

    Remembering the Horrors and Significance of Auschwitz
    The Moderate Voice

    Non-Council:
    Spelling It Out
    Cold Fury

    February 11

    Council:
    Bush Jong-Il
    The Sundries Shack

    Non-Council:
    Just. Shut. Up.
    Victory Soap

    Παρασκευή, Φεβρουαρίου 11, 2005

    Arthur Miller, RIP

    Arthur Miller, age 89, died last night.

    I met him last April, when I worked on a show called, "An Arthur Miller Celebration" at Michigan, his alma mater. He attended the production, and also came and talked to the drama students (and me -- I got a special invitation by dint of being the composer). My general impressions were, "Boy, is he old," and "Boy, is he liberal." Which, considering his body of work, should not have been entirely surprising to me. Towards the end of my time with that show, I had a semi-traumatic experience which was in no way his fault, but caused me a good six months of cringing at the name of Miller. I think I'm over it, largely because over the past few weeks, as exercises, we've been doing musical adaptations of parts of The Crucible and Death of a Salesman. You just can't turn someone into a musical and stay mad-by-association at them.

    He was a great playwright.

    Σάββατο, Φεβρουαρίου 05, 2005

    Back By Way of Brooklyn

    I now have my computer back, in body, though not in mind (they weren't able to recover any data, which is not the end of the world) and so... I'm BAAAACKKK!

    Where have I been, while I've been away?

    Well, basically, Brooklyn. I've been teaching "urban" youth the finer points of the gentle art and noble craft of lyric writing.

    What does this entail? Well, basically, them taking a portion of a perfectly servicable, inspirational lyric of mine that they were NOT supposed to rewrite, and turning it into a not-so-servicable, far-less-inspirational lyric about, as far as I can tell teen pregnancy, with the most memorable bit being "Some have babies/Some get married."

    Children are our future.

    Oh, by the way, speaking of Brooklyn -- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is at ENCORES at City Center this coming weekend. It will be an excellent production, and if you like that sort of show, you'll love it. If 1950's style musicals make you want to rip out your ears, I strongly suggest holding out for Purlie.

    Τρίτη, Φεβρουαρίου 01, 2005

    Where I've Been

    So as you may have noticed if you've been reading the comments, my hard drive died, which is why I haven't been around for a week. We're still waiting for a part, so it's still not fixed. Hopefully, it will be fixed tomorrow. Until then, little to no blogging.